Search the site

News categories

News archives

RSS feeds

Our Common Future

August 9th, 2017

I have added to the pages of this site the text of an introduction which I gave by invitation to a forum on Museum Futures held by Museums Australia 9 years ago.

I do so because of my increasing despair over what is happening in cultural policy and indeed policy more generally in Australia at this time, August 2017. The seeming failure to meaningfully address so many issues from climate change and energy policy to marriage equality, from recognition of the primacy of Indigenous Peoples in their quest to be heard and achieve genuine self-determination, as set out in “The Statement from the Heart” issued after the meetings in Uluru at the end of May, the failure to address issues of inequality, homelessness as well as health and education and so much more, is of the greatest concern.

On ABC RN Breakfast 10 August 2017, Dr Anne Summers spoke of her upcoming Kenneth Myer address at the National Library of Australia.

Dr Summers, journalist and feminist urges “a full reboot” of Australia in the 21st century.

She will argue Australia is no longer equipped to deal with the challenges of the future: “our tendency to elect governments based on slogans rather than policies has left us desperately in need of economic, social, emotional and even spiritual reconstruction.”

In respect of museums the approach has in many cases been worse than dismal, driven by a seeming passion for market economics and small government, policies which have manifestly failed. At the National level, museums and libraries have had years of efficiency dividends applied which have downsized staff and limited programs and most especially what should be a major focus on creativity and innovation. In New South Wales museums policy means trying to move to the inner western suburb of Parramatta a major institution, the Powerhouse Museum, from its site in Ultimo near Darling Harbour, which features the National Maritime Museum and just nearby the ever expanding University of Technology (UTS).

The Executive of the Council of Museums Australia, the organisation established in 1993 to represent museums and museum people, sought in the last couple of years to address ongoing concerns about the level of representation of both arts museums and other museums by changing its name to MuseumsGalleries Australia. Objections to the lack of consultation on the proposal led to the abandonment at the annual meetings in May 2017 in Brisbane, of a constitutional change to give effect to the name change.

The way museum policy, and cultural policy generally, in Australia is being developed needs, as Anne Summers has said, a reboot.

Addressing the future is never just a matter of changing a few words or titles: that is as useful as reorganising the structure and getting a new logo. Nor is it simply a matter of satisfying those who seem to have most influence by “papering over” genuine concerns which significantly affect the way people live their lives by drawing upon a few well-known phrases appealing to fear of change, fear of difference, fear of uncertainty and fear of ideas.

A future of security, of peace, based on tolerance and respect and the opportunity for all to achieve their potential, set out so well by Nobel prizewinning economist Amartya Sen and many others, is being sidelined by nothing more than a wish by those with power and influence to enrich themselves. It represents a massive failure of accountability.

The 2009 report of the UN Development Program pointed to the fact that major advances in health and education had come not from increasing wealth but from the cross-border transfer of ideas. Wealth in not unimportant – though how it is defined and measured is a matter of great importance – but it is not enough. In Australia at this time, the importance of ideas is subservient to the continued pursuit of failed dogma.

Summers decries the deployment of slogans by our political leaders. Amongst the most dangerous is the accusation that a strong leader does not change his mind!

Our Common Future is at risk.

Note: The frequently quoted statement about changing one’s mind when the facts change is usually attributed to John Maynard Keynes. The evidence seems to be that it was actually 1970 Nobel prizewinner Paul Samuelson.



Comments are closed.